Does the Novus Ordo Really Have “Noble Simplicity” Compared to the Tridentine Mass?

J.M.J.

Greetings, merry Christmas, and happy new year to all!

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, unfortunately, so I understand if people have been thinking this blog is dead. It’s not, in fact, dead. I have one post mostly written that I haven’t gotten around to publishing, continuing with the subject of lay readers that I already made two posts on. I also have another big post — focusing on evolution — in the idea stage. But time is a beast, and, very often, I find myself wanting to do other things. With all that said, there’s something I’ve been thinking about over the past couple weeks that I wanted to discuss.

One of the primary directives of Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium is the following:

“In the revision of the liturgy, the following norms should be observed: the rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless [inutiles] repetitions; they should be within the peoples’ powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 33-34).

Now, many, including me, take issue with the repetitions in the older Mass being called “useless,” and I would also question whether “comprehension” of the rites should be a primary aim. After all, the Holy Mass is an infinite mystery, and, try as we might, we will never totally understand it.

But what I’d like to focus on here is the idea of “noble simplicity.” In Sacrosanctum Concilium, and in the revised Order of the Mass, it seems that “noble simplicity” requires short, simple prayers – and hence, the saints’ names in the Confiteor and in the Libera Nos following the Our Father got cut. The numerous signs of the Cross in the Canon got cut. The Domine, Non Sum Dignus is said by the priest and people together, once only. And there are numerous other examples of this rather unfortunate trend as well.

However, I would suggest that, in one respect, the revised Order of the Mass fails utterly in its aim to be nobly simple, and that the former Mass is clearly more in line with the aims of Vatican II’s directives.

If the former missal has something definitely going for it, it’s that the Mass has a clearly delineated structure, and the faithful in the pews can know what to expect each time. To put it simply, the Traditional Latin Mass doesn’t really have options. There is the option of what type of Mass will be offered – Low Mass, High Mass, Solemn Mass – but that’s essentially it. The Novus Ordo, however, allows for so many options in all of its parts that any Mass according to that missal would differ from others. Let’s observe some examples. For the sake of ease, I’m going to refer to the older Mass as the “Tridentine Mass” (even though it was around well before the Council of Trent).

The Tridentine Mass, with very rare exceptions, always begins with the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These don’t change. These begin with Psalms 43 and 42, then include a Confiteor said by the priest and then a Confiteor said by the servers on behalf of the faithful. There is then a brief quotation from Psalm 85, followed by two prayers as the priest goes up to the altar. This pattern can be expected at essentially every Tridentine Mass.

In the Novus Ordo, however, there are multiple options after the Sign of the Cross, which will depend on the whim of the priest offering the Mass. So, for example, he could say, “The Lord be with you,” (R\: And with your spirit), or he could say, “The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (same response), or he could even say, “Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (the response here is either “And with your spirit” or “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

Then, for the Penitential Act, there are three options, which can be chosen at the priest’s discretion: 1) the Confiteor and Kyrie; 2) just the Confiteor; 3) just the Kyrie, with prescribed introductions before each petition.

So far, then, there’s six official variations from the Sign of the Cross to the Kyrie, which will differ from priest to priest, while the Tridentine Mass has a stable and unchanging setup.

As far as Scriptural readings are concerned, the Tridentine Mass has three variations: the priest reads the Epistle and the Gospel himself at a Low Mass; he chants them at a High Mass; and in a Solemn Mass, the subdeacon chants the Epistle while the deacon chants the Gospel. That’s the extent of variations to be expected in this area. In the Novus Ordo, though, there are numerous options. As is the case in most places, lay people – men or women – are permitted and even expected to read the first two readings. They may do so in their own clothes, or vested in something such as an alb or a cassock and surplice. Alternatively, the priest himself may read the readings, though this is rarely done. Yet all options would be licit, and all of them could feasibly happen, depending on the desire of the priest.

Then we reach the Eucharistic Prayer. In the Tridentine Mass, the prayer is the Roman Canon. No other options exist, no textual variations exist, and the rubrics are always the same. In the Novus Ordo, not only are there technically ten different prayers (the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayers II-IV, the two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, and the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs – which has four variations), but also, within the Roman Canon, the priest has the option of abbreviating it by omitting most of the saints and all of the “Through Christ our Lord. Amen” conclusions. Thus, there are eleven possible Eucharistic Prayer variations from Novus Ordo to Novus Ordo, while it will always remain the same in the Tridentine Mass.

There are more options I could explore within the Novus Ordo as well, but this is enough to make my point. This doesn’t even bring up options such as having Mass ad orientem or ad populum; English or Latin, or a mix of each; bare altar, or altar with a crucifix and candles; male or female altar servers; Extraordinary Ministers or just the priest distributing Communion; and on and on.

My goal is not to say that options are intrinsically a problem. They can be utilized to good effect, as the Anglican Ordinariate Mass, and some of the Divine Liturgies, demonstrate. But my question is this: have we really rendered the liturgy “nobly simple” by allowing a dizzying plethora of options, which end up making the Mass more of an a la carte menu? Or might the Tridentine Mass have something to teach us in its stable and constant character?

God bless, all.

Beautiful But Rarely Used: The Canon of the Mass, Part 2

J.M.J.

Greetings, one and all!

In the last post on this topic, I told you that this post (admittedly a rather long one, but hopefully interesting all the same!) would be dealing with the Roman Canon, the first Eucharistic Prayer, from the Consecration onward. Well, as it turns out, that was just slightly misleading, because I want to take take a minute briefly to address a chief difference between the Canon and its newer rivals.

The Holy Spirit: Strangely Absent?

The difference is this: for better or worse, the Roman Canon has no direct prayer asking the Holy Spirit to sanctify the offerings (also known as an Epiclesis).

It might seem insignificant, but this was something which made liturgists both before and after Vatican II (like the author of Eucharistic Prayer III, for example) dissatisfied with the Canon, many thinking the Canon surely used to have an Epiclesis and it somehow got pushed out or reworded as time went on (The Mass: A Study of the Roman Rite by late nineteenth and early twentieth-century liturgist Adrian Fortescue gives many and various ideas from liturgists of that time about how this might’ve occurred, but gives no solid evidence of whether or not it’s true). At any rate, the new Eucharistic Prayers have an Epiclesis (would the plural be Epicleses?) in some form or another, and this was lauded among liturgists at the time they were written as being a happy return to a more ancient practice now restored. It was also seen as a pleasant way to connect the West with the East, since the Churches of the East are known for utilizing the Epiclesis in their Eucharistic Prayers (more correctly, their “anaphoras”).

This Eucharistic Prayer is notable for its lack of an invocation to the Holy Spirit upon the offerings.
This Eucharistic Prayer is notable for its lack of an invocation of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying power upon the offerings.

If someone were to ask me, I would say the Roman Canon doesn’t particularly need an Epiclesis, as it has multiple prayers preceding the Consecration which ask God to bless and accept the offerings, and it also has its own prayer that, while not expressing the same idea as an invocation of the Holy Spirit, expresses an idea of comparable weight and gives the Canon its own particular character. This is the Supplices te rogamus. More on that below, though.

Now, onwards to the Consecration!

The Prayers of the Consecration Itself

Yet another difference between the Roman Canon and the newer prayers is the introduction to the Consecration. I said that the inclusion of an invocation to the Holy Spirit within the new prayers was seen by many as a happy way to unite the liturgies of East and West. Well, what I’m about to mention is rather less significant, but still interesting. In the new prayers, one might notice that the priest uses words along the lines of, “On the night He was betrayed,” “At the time He was betrayed,” or “The night before He died.” Well, as it turns out, this, too, was seen as a way to assimilate a little bit of the East’s practices into the West. The Roman Canon has always used a different formula, one which is particular to it, if I’m not mistaken, and thus particular to the Roman Rite. It has it this way: “The day before He was to suffer” (“qui pridie quam pateretur”). I remember reading somewhere—perhaps it was the book mentioned above—that it was worded like this to focus the minds of those present on the Passion of Christ, but I can’t recall for certain. Anyway, it’s an interesting little difference.

A more obvious thing one might note when comparing the Roman Canon to the newer prayers is the heightened reverence for Our Lord present here. It does not just say that Our Lord “took bread,” but that He took it, as the Latin says, “in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas,” that is, “in His holy and venerable hands.” This might sound like the product of excessive piety, but it’s actually quite interesting. The Lord Jesus Christ is a Divine Person Who has assumed a human nature. He is God, in a human nature, and so, as the prayer bears out, His Person sanctifies everything about the nature He has taken, including something so seemingly insignificant as His hands. This is a fact which should bring wonder to every priest called upon to repeat His action in the Holy Mass. The very hands of Christ are sacred, yet in the Mass, the entirety of Christ is made present.

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Any chalice used to hold the Blood of Christ, from the one He used at the Last Supper to any chalice used at a Mass since that night, is going to be “precious” from then on.

Again, in the Consecration of the Chalice, it does not just say He took “the chalice,” but rather, “this precious chalice,” — “hunc praeclarum calicem.” Why? Because any chalice which has been called upon to hold the Blood of the Lord, from a golden one embedded with jewels to a wooden and uninspired one, is, from then on and ever afterward, perpetually sanctified, perpetually made holy. It becomes no longer just an object, but indeed, one might argue that every chalice which has held the Eucharistic Presence is a genuine Tabernacle for as long as it serves that purpose, and also for as long as it will continue to serve that purpose in the future. It’s no longer just a chalice. It’s the holiest of man-made vessels, for it contains the Holy of Holies within itself.

After the Consecration

Following the Consecration, there is heard what is, in my opinion, the most striking text of the entire Mass: “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into Heaven of Christ, your Son, Our Lord, we . . . offer . . . from the gifts you have given us, this pure Victim (hostiam puram), this holy Victim (hostiam sanctam), this spotless Victim (hostiam immaculatam), the holy Bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation.” Right there, on the altar, offering Himself for our sake now, without death, just as He offered Himself in death on the Cross, is the One Whom Peter called “the Lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).

The Lamb has things said of Him which can only be said of God without the one saying them being guilty of sin.
As the priest mentions “this pure Victim, this holy Victim, this spotless Victim,” it’s difficult not to think of the sacrificed Christ, the Lamb of God, as depicted in the Book of Revelation.

 

Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the propitiatory character of the Mass as affirmed at Trent, this next segment is very interesting. The current translation has it this way: “Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance.” That sounds nice, surely, but if one looks at the Latin original, he’ll find something more striking: “Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris,” literally, “deign to look upon them with a propitious and serene gaze.” Such a translation clearly brings to mind the Mass’ propitiatory, or sin-forgiving, character. The Canon goes on to mention the Old Testament forerunners of our sacrifice, Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek, whose offerings foreshadowed, and are perfected in, the Holy Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist is, as the prayer says, the “holy sacrifice” and “spotless Victim” of the New Covenant.

As the Canon draws to a close, it reaches that peculiar moment that has no parallel in the new prayers, known as the Supplices te rogamus. This prayer, I think, could be rightly called the “Epiclesis of the Canon,” for although there isn’t a direct prayer asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is nonetheless a definitive request that the Sacrifice be “ratified” by God. This prayer is, interestingly, one of the places where the profoundly reverential rubrics of the older form of Mass have been retained to this day, and, if other people are at all like me, this is likely a place where they will take notice. Bowing low over the altar, the priest asks God’s angel (considered by some to be a reference to Christ Himself, the “Angel of the Lord” in many an Old Testament text) to carry the Sacrifice to the altar in Heaven, “in the sight of [God’s] Divine Majesty,” such that all who receive the Holy Eucharist from the altar here below may be filled (literally translated) “with every heavenly blessing and grace” (“omni benedictione caelesti et gratia”). Those last words also mark the only point remaining inside the Mass (i.e., the “current” Mass) where the priest is to make the sign of the Cross over himself, and that moment, coupled with the profound bow for the duration of this prayer, make the Canon definitively more striking and beautiful to me than any of the other Eucharistic Prayers. But beyond the mere gestures of the prayer, the reference to God’s “altar on high” helps the faithful to realize that the same Sacrifice of Christ they take part in during Mass is going on perpetually in Heaven, and that the Mass, for as long as it lasts, is a union of the Church in Heaven and the Church still on Earth.

The second-to-last prayer, the Memento defunctorum or Remembrance of the Dead, once again points in a clear way to the fact that the Sacrifice of the Mass is to be offered for the souls of the faithful departed, or, as the Canon calls them, “those who have preceded us with the sign of faith and sleep in the slumber of peace” (“qui nos praecesserunt cum signo fidei et dormiunt in somno pacis”). Here there is yet another string of that “rhythmic,” repetitious wording as the priest asks that the faithful departed be admitted into a “place of refreshment, light, and peace.”

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Archbishop Fulton Sheen praying briefly for particular deceased persons at the “Memento” for the dead (note the joined thumbs and forefingers, which is a mandatory rubric of the older missal to safeguard any particles of the Host on the fingers of the priest).

At this point, there is a last prayer for those present, who, sinners though they are, can trust that God, in His kindness, will welcome them into Heaven along with “His holy apostles and martyrs,” with many of those martyrs being mentioned by name. This section begins with the words “Nobis quoque peccatoribus, famulis tuis,” literally, “to us sinners also, your servants.” This section also has retained a rubric from the older form, namely, that the priest strikes the breast upon saying, “peccatoribus” (sinners). Like the gestures of the Supplices te rogamus, this rubric makes the Roman Canon all the more beautiful to me. Certainly, a recognition of sin, if too self-effacing and pervasive, is the problem of scrupulosity, but in my opinion, the newer prayers would have done well to emulate the humility of the Roman Canon, which is indeed humility in the true sense: not saying that man is unworthy and leaving it at that, but rather, that man is unworthy, yet able, in the words of this prayer, to have confidence in the “multitude of God’s mercies.” The newer Eucharistic Prayers, while they mention the sinfulness of man, do not convey it in as moving or profound a fashion, nor do they give those present at Mass continual reminders of their place before the Divine.

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And so, my dear readers, these have been my various thoughts about this beautiful, but rarely used, prayer. I do hope more priests begin to see the beauty of it and will use it more. In my opinion, one of the simplest ways to recover a healthy theology of the Mass at the parish level would be to use the Roman Canon as the Sunday Eucharistic Prayer. At this point, one can only pray, though.

Before I go, I would highly recommend, for those interested in further reading, that you check out this article by Fr. Cassian Folsom, OSB, and published in 1996: “From One Eucharistic Prayer to Many: How it Happened and Why.” It gives a very interesting look at the surrounding situation—largely disobedience in the beginning, as history frequently has it—that brought about the new prayers, and the characteristics of the Roman Canon (some mentioned here) which the authors of the new prayers sought to alter.

I do hope you’ve found all this enjoyable.

Have a holy Lent!

“To you, therefore, most merciful Father” – (Somewhat) Theological Observations About the Canon of the Mass, Part 1

J.M.J.

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Until the current form of the Mass was officially promulgated in late 1969, Catholics of the Roman rite would have only known one Eucharistic Prayer. That prayer, now the first option among many (and commonly known as the Roman Canon), had sustained the Church almost entirely unchanged for over a millennium, and was, it might be argued, a hallmark of the Church’s liturgical faith against the ideas of people such as the founders of Protestantism.

The Council of Trent gave a glowing endorsement of this particular prayer with the following statement (read carefully, as it’s a bit of a mental tongue-twister): “And since it is becoming that holy things be administered in a holy manner, and since, of all things, this sacrifice is the most holy, the Catholic Church, to the end that it might be worthily and reverently offered and received, instituted many centuries ago the holy canon, which is so free from error that it contains nothing that does not in the highest degree savor of a certain holiness and piety, and raise up to God the minds of those who offer. For it consists partly of the very words of the Lord, partly of the traditions of the Apostles, and also of pious regulations of holy pontiffs” (Session XXII, Ch. IV).

Despite such high praise, despite the fact that the Church fostered it for centuries, and despite the generations of Catholics who were formed by it, it has been virtually thrown out of the ecclesial window and into the ecclesial trash heap since the end the of Second Vatican Council. Most often used in its place are Eucharistic Prayer II (a significantly shorter prayer with a much thinner level of substance) and Eucharistic Prayer III (a prayer which was written to be, in many ways, a reworking of the Canon so as to fix its perceived problems). Unless they have a priest who particularly likes it, Catholics today will generally hear the Roman Canon a few times a year (probably at Christmas, Easter, and All Saint’s Day—the last one due to the lists of individual saint names present in the prayer). But otherwise, several centuries of tradition have been discarded, with priests finding the Canon too long, the new prayers more streamlined, or the content of the new prayers more appealing (if a priest is reading this and has other reasons for not using the Canon, let me know; I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth). As for me, though, I’ve felt a strong affinity for the Roman Canon ever since the Mass was retranslated a few years ago, and I feel like some of my readers might appreciate reflections going into why I like it and why I wish it were once again prayed frequently.

NB: a) Before I go into my many thoughts on the matter, let it be said that I’m not an academic, and I’ve only studied this stuff at the level of personal interest, so I recognize that many solid objections could probably be brought up against the things I say. 

b) Where there is a portion of Latin in this post, it will be the case for the most part that the translation used is the one promulgated in 2011. If it’s my own translation, I’ll have written something like, “literally translated as…”

The Opening of the Prayer

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The beginning of the Canon in a missal from 1962 (the last edition promulgated of the previous liturgical form). Considering the sweeping changes which would take place in the years following Vatican II, it’s almost surprising that, at least as far as text is concerned, this prayer was virtually untouched (there is a difference in the immediate Consecration formulas, but that might be better discussed elsewhere).

The beginning of the prayer is already markedly different from most of the other options. Most of the other Eucharistic Prayers, making a direct connection with the Sanctus, the Holy, Holy, Holy, address God with the words, “You are indeed holy, O Lord.” Some perceive this as a definitive strength of the new prayers, since they have a greater connection to what has preceded them. That’s a topic for a different post, but at any rate, for those who aren’t used to the Roman Canon and have gotten used to hearing a correlation between the Holy and the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the introduction of the Canon might seem strange: “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition, through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord.” This already establishes a different tone than the other prayers, most of which begin, not with an immediate statement of humility, but a statement of praise. Now, before somebody jumps on that, I’m not saying there’s something wrong with praise and that we should be always and everywhere approaching the Lord in sackloth, ashes, and lamentations. But to me, the tone of these words suggests the weight, the responsibility, the majesty of the action the priest and faithful are going to take part in, and, for me, it provides a deeper mental preparation going forward than the comparatively “joyful” characteristics of the newer prayers. The faithful in Mass are going to be present to God and to all the angels and saints of Heaven, yes, but they’re also going to be transported to the scene of the Cross, the scene of our Good Lord’s suffering and death, and this, I think, is aided by words that recognize, like the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy” (Mt. 8:8).

The Prayers Before the Consecration

One of the things immediately noticeable about the Roman Canon is that, both in its Latin text and when translated literally (as opposed to the translation approved in the late 1960s), there is an almost poetic quality to it throughout. It uses strings of words that give it an arguably rhythmic tone. It begins, for example, asking God to accept and bless, in the Latin, “haec dona, haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata”—as the current English translation renders it, “these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.” As the priest offers them for the Church, the reader will notice there is yet another set of rhythmic phrases as the priest asks God to “be pleased to guard, unite, and govern her throughout the whole world” (“quam pacificare, custodire, adunare, et regere digneris toto orbe terrarum”).

Going on, it makes immediate mention of the Pope, the bishops, and the clergy, almost as a way of saying that prayers for the Vicar of Christ, whom Our Lord has made His spokesperson on Earth and the Rock of His Church, belong in a prominent place during the Sacred Action. The priest prayers also for all those who “cultivate” or “hand on” the Catholic and Apostolic faith (“et omnibus orthodoxis atque Catholicae et Apostolicae fidei cultoribus”). There is no sense of vagueness in this prayer. It is certainly declaring the Church headed by the Pope and bishops to be the universal faith, the same faith given from the Apostles themselves.

The next section, coupled with its counterpart later in the prayer (which some liturgists suggest were together in the Canon’s earlier development) shows an important truth about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as affirmed by the Council of Trent: that the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice, able to forgive our sins and able to be offered for the souls of Christians both living and dead.

Known as the Memento vivorum, the Remembrance of the Living, the section begins, “Remember, Lord, your servants, and all those gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you.” The next line is important, because it clearly enunciates a truth only able to be grasped in the other prayers by way of interpretation. This truth is that the Eucharist is offered, not just communally as a “we,” but separately as well. “I” offer it for my own needs, “you” for yours, and the ordained priest does so differently than the laity present.

And so the prayer says, “For them we offer you this sacrifice of praise, or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them”—and pointing to the propitiatory, or sin-forgiving, nature of the Offering, it goes on— “for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being.” Something to notice is that the word “health” here is a translation of the Latin word “salutis,” which could also be translated as “salvation.” However it’s translated, it’s difficult not to notice, again, that repetitious, almost rhythmic quality I mentioned: the Mass is offered for “redemption, health, and well-being,” things which can all be taken to mean similar things, but which add a poeticism to the prayer by their individual presence.

The next section, the Communicantes, is, like so much of this prayer, clearly Catholic through and through, beginning with a clear and direct affirmation of Mary’s divine maternity. “Communicantes et memoriam venerantes, in primis, gloriosae semper Virginis Mariae, Genetricis Dei et Domini nostri Jesu Christi“—literally, “Having communion with and venerating the memory, in the first place, of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.” The mention of the many individual saints calls to mind the host of holy men and women who have made it to Heaven, and also helps those present at the Mass to remember that they have intercessors in Heaven constantly praying for their sake. There is a clearly Catholic air, too, as the prayer closes, with the priest asking that by the “merits and prayers” of the saints mentioned, and all the saints in Heaven, the Christian faithful might always experience God’s protection and aid.

In the prayer preceding the Consecration, one can’t help noticing, yet again, that rhythmic repetition which marks so much of the prayer, as the priest asks God to (literally translated) “make this oblation blessed, approved, ratified, reasonable, and acceptable,” that it might become the Body and Blood of His Beloved Son.

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More to come, my dear readers, in Part 2, which will take a look at the rest of the Canon from the Consecration onward. That, in fact, is when I’d say things get most striking.

God bless, and may you all have a holy Lent until next time!